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Authors: John Creasey

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Here Comes the Toff

BOOK: Here Comes the Toff
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Copyright & Information

Here Comes The Toff

 

First published in 1940

© John Creasey Literary Management Ltd.; House of Stratus 1940-2013

 

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without the prior permission of the publisher. Any person who does any unauthorised act in relation to this publication may be liable to criminal prosecution and civil claims for damages.

 

The right of John Creasey to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted.

 

This edition published in 2013 by House of Stratus, an imprint of

Stratus Books Ltd., Lisandra House, Fore Street, Looe,

Cornwall, PL13 1AD, UK.

 

Typeset by House of Stratus.

 

A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library and the Library of Congress.

 

ISBN
 
EAN
 
Edition
0755135725
 
9780755135721
 
Print
075513740X
 
9780755137404
 
Mobi
0755139062
 
9780755139064
 
Epub

 

This is a fictional work and all characters are drawn from the author's imagination.

Any resemblance or similarities to persons either living or dead are entirely coincidental.

 

www.houseofstratus.com

 

 

About the Author

 

John Creasey – Master Storyteller - was born in Surrey, England in 1908 into a poor family in which there were nine children, John Creasey grew up to be a true master story teller and international sensation. His more than 600 crime, mystery and thriller titles have now sold 80 million copies in 25 languages. These include many popular series such as
Gideon of Scotland Yard, The Toff, Dr Palfrey and The Baron
.

Creasey wrote under many pseudonyms, explaining that booksellers had complained he totally dominated the 'C' section in stores. They included:

 

Gordon Ashe, M E Cooke, Norman Deane, Robert Caine Frazer, Patrick Gill, Michael Halliday, Charles Hogarth, Brian Hope, Colin Hughes, Kyle Hunt, Abel Mann, Peter Manton, J J Marric, Richard Martin, Rodney Mattheson, Anthony Morton and Jeremy York.

 

Never one to sit still, Creasey had a strong social conscience, and stood for Parliament several times, along with founding the
One Party Alliance
which promoted the idea of government by a coalition of the best minds from across the political spectrum.

He also founded the
British Crime Writers' Association
, which to this day celebrates outstanding crime writing.
The Mystery Writers of America
bestowed upon him the
Edgar Award
for best novel and then in 1969 the ultimate
Grand Master Award
. John Creasey's stories are as compelling today as ever.

 

Chapter One
Of the Toff

 

There are so many stories of the Toff.

That gentleman, who is known socially as the Hon. Richard Rollison, to his friends as Rolly, and to a few disapproving relatives as Richard, will deny most of them, saying that they follow the lines of each other so closely that there is in fact only one story worth telling about him. Therein he is too modest – which is not one of his major faults – although it is probably true that he finds a monotonous similarity in the various adventures which have befallen him.

Mostly, he is the first to admit, these adventures are of his own choosing. In a really discursive mood he will go into the psychological reasons for his interest in crime, and present himself as a man of unusual moral awareness. He will even produce a somewhat startling and yet plausible argument to the effect that he was sent into this world as a squalling infant – or so the records say – that he might use the axe of retribution on many gentlemen whose illegal practices would otherwise have escaped their full punishment.

A man of many contradictions, the Hon. Richard Rollison.

Thus, with more money than he knew what to do with, he sometimes lived in positive luxury – while at others he lived so humbly that people who did not know him might have imagined that he could not boast two half-crowns. There were occasions when he delved deeply into the delights of the social whirl which takes possession of London two or three times a year. And there were other periods when all the charms of the Season, and the Season's lovelies, could not lure him from the East End, which he liked to call his spiritual home.

Of course, much that Rollison says must be taken with the proverbial pinch of salt. Few people know when the expression in his grey eyes is serious, few can tell when he is exerting himself to pull a leg sadly in need of pulling, and probably only Jolly – his man – knows when the Toff is worried.

Jolly himself is an example of the waywardness of the Toff – or, more accurately, of his reputation for waywardness. Many folk claim that Jolly's name is more likely to be Smith or Brown, but that his dyspeptic face, miserable as it always seems and is always likely to be, inspired the Toff to dub him Jolly. In point of fact, the rumour is not true, but the Toff likes to create the impression that it might be.

In selecting the stories of the Toff for presentation to a public that knows little of the man himself, one rule has to be followed. Anything which is unusual, anything which shows unexpected twists and turns – that alone qualifies a story for the telling according to the Toff, and he will allow nothing else to be written.

There is the story of the hobnailed boots.

The police gave it another name for their records, and the Press gave it various names for their headlines, but the Toff insists that the hobnailed boots were the key to the whole situation. Without them, he considered, it would have been humdrum and unworthy of recording.

He asks, with some justification, why a man should take his boots off during a London pea-souper, and whether any other case recorded at the Yard can show a hobnailed boot as Exhibit A, B or C? When the police (also with justification) point out that there was no such exhibit, he laughs – that quiet and yet rollicking laugh of his, wherewith the world seems a happier place – and claims that he cannot be responsible for their lack of perception.

It did not, of course, start with boots. Like quite a number of the Toff's adventures, it began in a fashionable restaurant in Mayfair – the Embassy, to wit – and at a time when the Toff was considering the blue eyes of a companion who was charming to look at and to talk to, who could dance, who could laugh, and who did not take life too seriously.

Her name was Anthea, which the Toff thought most pleasant-sounding, and her hair was fair, even golden, and her skin was blemishless. Her eyes had a starry light, and her lips were easy – and sometimes anxious – to kiss, although at the Embassy they were naturally redder than nature made them.

Anthea – Lady Anthea Munro – was Scottish, and very lovely.

There was nothing of the
jeune fille
about her, and although she knew of Rollison as the Toff, she had not once asked him to take her to the East End.

She danced with an effortless grace which made even the Toff forget that there were a hundred others dancing on the crowded floor of the Embassy on a night when outside it was cold, but inside over-warm. The hour – although Rollison did not know it at the time – was eleven-fourteen.

Anthea said: “You're a queer specimen, Rolly, aren't you?”

Rollison raised one eyebrow as he turned, while the strains of violins came sweet and haunting.

“I'm inclined to agree with you: queer is the word, up to a point. But I don't see why you should choose it.”

“Try,” said Anthea.

“Why?” asked Rollison. “You can tell me, and save me the trouble of thinking.”

“Idiot.” She smiled, her teeth glistening and very white. “Like you're real cool, you know.”

“If the current mode is to prefix all statements with ‘like', and say someone's ‘real cool' in this hothouse,” said Rollison, “I don't approve of it. And if this is a proposal, my sweet, be warned that I am a misogynist by the grace of God and the dreadful warnings of my married friends. Do we leave the subject?”

“No,” said Anthea, “and it wasn't a proposal. I'm going to marry Jamie, a nice, stolid, wealthy, companionable, and interesting man who will make me perfectly happy.”

“Lucky girl,” said Rollison. “Does he know yet?”

“He only hopes,” said Anthea. “I—oh, confound it, and there's an interval due.”

The music had ended, and the crowd of well-dressed – even exclusively dressed – people made their way back to their seats. Rollison – as always – had contrived to secure a corner table, pleasantly cool, and yet not too close to others, and at a spot where service could be speeded up as he required it. A waiter, hovering, approached at the lift of his finger, and poured more champagne, replacing the bottle reverently on ice.

“Thanks,” said Rollison, and as Anthea settled down in her chair, raised his glass. “To Jamie, when he hears the happy news.”

“Fool,” said Anthea again, but she drank laughingly. “Rolly, I think you're deliberately trying to make me drunk.”

“Heaven forbid!” said the Toff with exaggerated horror. “There's nothing more repulsive than a pretty girl who's tipsy. Especially one so young.”

Anthea lifted her hands, a quick gesture.

“There – you see. We've been here for two hours, and we had an hour together this afternoon, and that's the first time you've paid me a compliment. Even then it was back-handed.”

“Oh,” said the Toff, and sounded bereft of words – which was not the case, for he was a most talkative and self-possessed gentleman, and rarely stumped. As he expected, the single exclamation made Anthea go on.

“I don't think I've ever had the experience before. I've known men tongue-tied, but never one who could talk nineteen to the dozen without telling me the colour of my eyes.”

Rollison's lips curved.

“I gave you credit for knowing that they're lovely.” He lit a cigarette after she had refused. “I could have told you all about your eyes and hair, which is—I could have said—like spun gold. Or your teeth, normally to be compared with pearls. Or of lips which have been put to uses Jamie certainly would not approve, and which are distinctly kissable.”

“I wonder,” said Anthea a little dreamily, “whether Jamie will be able to kiss like you.”

“In time, and with encouragement,” said the Toff. “The right time, and—if I dare advise you—discreet encouragement I believe that on and immediately after engagements, dour young men suddenly wake up to the realization that there have been other lips, which thought, of course, enrages them. Surprising how many ingenuous young men there still are in existence. I …”

“We are talking about you,” said Anthea firmly. “Why aren't you like the rest? I've seen at least a dozen women ogling you tonight, and you've ignored them. And the dowdy ones, or the older ones, you smile at. Do you mean to do it, or is it accidental?”

Rollison laughed with real amusement.

“Anthea, you're a delight! I mean it, thanks be. The answer is that the old and dowdy who get little attention love it, and the young and beautiful who get plenty hate it. And if you will have it, my dear, I told you all that I think of your face and figure and voice and intelligence when I suggested that we might have fun together. I knew about Jamie, too, and that suggested you'd want to have your fling before he came down from Scotland. I'm surprised at you, though, you're taking a risk—he'll probably hear both about it and my dubious reputation.”

“I can handle Jamie,” said Anthea, with complete assurance. “And we're still talking about you. What makes you—well, look for crime?”

Rollison raised both brows.

“Do I?”

“Don't hedge!”

“That's not hedging, it's a question, and I'll answer it myself. I don't look for crime. I find it sometimes, but more often than not it finds me. I don't look for anything, sweetheart, but there are some things I come across that I don't particularly like and I try to prevent a repetition of them. Does that make sense?”

“More or less,” said Anthea. “I …”

She broke off, and the Toff's lips curved.

“Well done, Anthea. You just saved yourself from saying you'd like to tour the East End with me. Right?”

“Right. How
do
you know?”

“It must be the feminine streak in me,” said Rollison. “It's obviously intuition, and as all women claim that only women have that, the feminine streak can be taken as read.”

Anthea laughed.

Few would have suggested that there was anything feminine in Rollison. He stood more than seventy-two inches, was broad with it, and yet had a figure which delighted his tailor. He could be called handsome without stretching the word to cover any particular
mésalliance
of feature. His hair was dark and wavy. His jaw, which was square, had a prominence not out of proportion to his face, wherein the nose was straight and the lips well shaped. The wide-set eyes were grey, having the expression which sometimes suggests that a man is used to looking into long distances.

“All right, Rolly, it's the feminine streak in you. I knew it would be fatal if I asked.”

Rollison's eyes gleamed.

“And now that you haven't asked, you hope that I'll be a perfect gentleman and offer?”

“We-ell,” said Anthea, “Jamie comes back in two days' time, and I won't be free after that. But I'm not pressing you.”

“No-o,” said Rollison, and although the gleam remained in his eyes, she sensed that he was serious. “Anthea, the East End has many points I like but you wouldn't. Of course, it's vastly changed since the war, but too many of the old, bad streets survived to go on festering. Parts of it you'd call dirty and smelly. You'd think the people unspeakable, you'd consider the shops lousy, you would take one look at the river and think with nostalgia of Maidenhead. You'd dislike the smelly saloon bars and the smellier public bars, you'd find the children call after you, you'd get tired because you can't get a cab to take you from corner to corner, your shoes would be so thin that they'd wear through on the cobbles—yes, there are plenty of cobbled streets left, my sweet, don't imagine that Lancashire has a lien on them. You can't
look
at the East End. You've got to be part of it, and it takes years to get acclimatized. Be wise, and stay this side of Aldgate Pump.”

Anthea said quietly: “It's fascinating, isn't it? I don't mean Chinatown, and all that nonsense—but the real people living there. You're right, I know. I spent a week in Wapping, last year. I went to a boarding-house and paid thirty shillings a week for a room, and the first day I loved it. But” – she shrugged and smiled – “no one spoke to me, no one trusted me. I wanted to get to know them, but they drove me out in a week. Oh, they were polite, I don't mean they ignored me. But they remembered aitches too often, and the landlady always washed her hands before coming upstairs to my room. I felt a beast.”

Rollison contemplated her for some minutes, and although the band started again, neither of them stood up. The smoke curled from the cigarette between his fingers, which were tanned a light brown, like his face. The champagne was bubbling slowly in their glasses, as if sullen and resentful at being ignored. And then Rollison said, without abruptness, but also without any apparent relation to what she had said: “Scotland's a grand walking country, Anthea.”

She hesitated, and then averted her eyes. All enthusiasm had died out of her voice; she seemed deflated.

“Yes, isn't it?”

“No one who comes from there would be without a good stout pair of brogues, and a mac that doesn't look new, and a hat that the wind can blow off if it wants to. Jamie comes back in two days, my sweet, so that leaves us only tomorrow. I'll take you there, and we'll see whether the East End is more kindly towards you now.”

Anthea's lips were parted, her eyes shining.

“Rolly, you—you darling!”

“I'm not a bit sure,” said the Hon. Richard Rollison with a frown, “that you haven't been throwing histrionics to work me up to the offer.”

“Couldn't we start tonight?”

“Strange though it may seem,” said Rollison sardonically, “places of interest there close before midnight. Most people have to be up around six, to get to work by seven or eight. If they don't arrive on time they lose their job—and the vast majority like to work.” He looked about him, and there was a twist to his lips which she had not seen before, an expression almost of disdain in his eyes. “Here are your won't-works, here are the real poor, even though they're rolling in money. There's hardly a man or woman here tonight who knows what real work is.”

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